I was fooled. I thought that the Green Bay Packers might have found their recipe for success against the Dallas Cowboys, but just a few days later, we saw the same inconsistent football team that we’ve been watching for much of the season.
Following another loss, and one that all but ensures Green Bay won’t be going to the playoffs, here are the stats and figures you need to know from their performance.
It was clear that the Packers’ first priority – and understandably so – was to slow Derrick Henry. And they did that. However, it’s as if there was zero preparation time spent on the Titans’ passing game as a result.
This hasn’t been a very good Tennessee passing attack this season. Their offensive line struggles in pass protection and they have an underwhelming receiving core, although you wouldn’t have known that watching Thursday’s game. Ryan Tannehill would throw for 333 yards with a pair of touchdowns, and one interception, all while completing 22 of his 27 passes at an impressive 12.3 yards per attempt. Rookie Treylon Burks totaled seven receptions for 111 yards.
Green Bay gave Tennessee way too many easy completions on underneath routes, a number of which helped extend drives on third downs, and there were times when Green Bay’s cornerbacks were just beat. On top of that, somehow, 11 weeks into the season, there are still miscommunications and breakdowns in coverage taking place.
As the defensive coordinator, Joe Barry is responsible and should shoulder most of the blame. But with that said, Jerry Gray and the players are responsible for these continued issues as well. When there are simple assignments being blown, those issues transcend what the scheme is.
On the flip side, Green Bay was able to hold Derrick Henry to only 3.1 yards per carry on 28 attempts. His longest run of the night was also just nine yards. As a team, the Packers did a very good job of tackling Henry and were better at setting the edge. Barry also made some adjustments, which most notably included playing with a heavy defensive front that included six defenders, four of which were interior defensive linemen. We also saw Barry blitzing to muddy up running lanes, along with utilizing Quay Walker at edge rusher.
Following what was easily Aaron Rodgers’ best performance of the season against Dallas, with the defense finally able to get stops in the fourth quarter, any hopes of a comeback were doomed by some inaccurate passes and a poorly timed sack.
On the Packers’ final four possession, Rodgers was just 8 of 16 for 60 yards, averaging just 3.8 yards per attempt. Of the eight incompletions, two came on third downs, with Allen Lazard and Sammy Watkins running wide-open over the middle of the field.
“I couldn’t tell you or point to one thing,” said Rodgers postgame. “I’m not going to make excuses about my thumb; it’s been the same since New York. I have to go back and look at it. I feel like, fundamentally, I was in a good spot, but I just didn’t have the same type of consistent grip and the ball coming out the same way. I through a lot of wobblers tonight. Just missed a few throws I should have had. Definitely the one to Sammy and the one to Allen for sure.”
Now, is the outcome any different if Rodgers completes those passes – who knows? But a big part of any success that the Packers were going to have this season required a high-level performance from Rodgers, and more often than not, that hasn’t been the case.
As expected, moving the ball on the ground against this Tennessee defensive front did not come easy for Green Bay. On 18 carries for Aaron Jones and AJ Dillon, the two would total only 53 yards, and as a team, the Packers rushed for 2.9.
It was a tough situation for the Packers to be in. The run game has often been the catalyst behind much of the success on offense this season, but against a very good front and a banged-up secondary, leaning on the passing game was a more prominent part of the Packers gameplan. This led to more snaps from shotgun and Green Bay trying to spread out this Tennessee defense. In theory, I can see why they felt the need to do this. But on the flip side, this isn’t their formula for success either. Ultimately, these are the problems that not very good football teams face.
“After last week, we felt good about running the ball on anybody,” said Rodgers after the game. “But they’re averaging like 66 yards per game the last 7 or 8. We knew it was going to be tough; they’re stout in the middle, good linebackers, and knew we’d have to throw it. We had obviously a lot more third and long situations today and just didn’t convert enough of them.”
Of the Rodgers’ issues on Thursday, the pass protection wasn’t one of them. Fully healthy for the second straight game, the Packers’ offensive line allowed only eight pressures, according to PFF, against a defensive front that ranked fifth in both pressure rate and sacks this season. Rodgers’ also held the ball for 2.93-seconds on average, his second-highest rate this season.
10 and 2
Arguably, the two best players on the field for the Packers were their rookies, Quay Walker and Christian Watson.
Walker did a little bit of everything for the Packers’ defense, from having perhaps the best game of his young career against the run to limiting pass catchers in coverage. He was also used as a blitzer and lined up on the edge. Overall, Walker led the team in tackles with 10, including no misses; he also led the team in stops with five. Walker would also record one pressure and allow only six yards in coverage.
Watson, meanwhile, continues to be a touchdown magnet. We all know that Watson is an athletic freak, but those abilities were on display on both touchdowns. On the first, Rodgers gave him a jump ball opportunity that he came down with. Then on the second, his speed allowed him to beat zone coverage on a crosser for a wide-open touchdown.
“The answer is yes,” said Rodgers when asked if Watson needs more opportunities. “I think we have to get the ball to our playmakers, and he’s stepped up the last two weeks. That over-the-shoulder catch, I think, opened up a new world of confidence for him.”
The Packers’ defense just could not find a way to get off the field against Tennessee, who finished the game a combined 8 of 15 on third and fourth downs. On third and short, stopping Henry from gaining a yard or two felt like an impossible task. While on third and longs, as already discussed, the pass defense gave up way too many easy completions.